Last time UCLA women’s soccer played Wisconsin earlier this season, it was a drawn-out game. The two teams had long, smooth opportunities to score throughout the game, but it took until the very end for the Bruins to net the ball.
On Saturday night, the scene at Drake Stadium was a little different.
The most common sight was a tight tangle of gold and red jerseys in front of the goal.
The Bruins and the Badgers all scrambled for the ball and in all their efforts, it would pop far out of reach, causing everyone to reset and try again. The players looked frustrated, all going after and losing the ball time and time again.
Then, in one of those tangles, just 15 minutes in, the ball landed at the feet of sophomore midfielder Caprice Dydasco. She kicked it high to the edge, right next to the goal, to freshman forward Taylor Smith.
Smith headed the ball into the goal, a split-second opportunity that made all the difference in the 1-0 win against the Badgers.
While UCLA lost out on several opportunities to stretch its lead throughout the game with those same struggles right in front of the goal, the team never let Wisconsin make good on chances to even it up.
“I think we did a good job of holding the win,” Dydasco said. “It was a lot of good energy there in the first half. Second half, we were lucky to hold on but we fought back, it was an awesome win.”
With this win, the Bruins move on to the next stage in the postseason, a second-round game against the Kentucky Wildcats.
“I think it’s all just about not giving up on any chance, having that mental attitude to get after them and finish it,” Smith said.
Saturday was a cold night out at Drake. But while the temperatures were low, the intensity was high, an expected product of the single-elimination atmosphere.
“This isn’t the time to have to give the rah-rah speeches before the game. … Nothing’s going to be easy in the NCAA tournament, and you’re going to have to claw and dig and scratch your way out of situations,” coach B.J. Snow said.
The game’s lone goal-scorer, Smith, has been a mainstay of the program this year, a Pac-12 All-Freshman honoree, but to Snow, age means nothing at this point in the season.
“She’s not young anymore. None of the freshmen are young anymore. Our philosophy is, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you should be able to contribute,” Snow said.
UCLA held the lead for most of the game, but with just a one-goal advantage, any chance Wisconsin had near the goal could have carried it into overtime.
There were opportunities throughout the game for UCLA to snag some insurance goals, but each shot made a point of staying away from the depths of the goal.
The Bruins were forced to hustle all game long to make sure they held onto the win, even up until the final minutes when the Badgers got a possession near the goal.
“I would have liked to see us put a few more away so we wouldn’t have to go to the cardiologist after every game,” Snow said, “but at this point in time it’s a result and we’re moving on.”